Macbeth: The Prologue, The Pit, Barbican Centre, London

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This adaptation of Macbeth, subtitled “The Prologue”, comes to us from Ukraine. Its programme notes inform us that it was created in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution, and that this Dakh company was “heavily involved in the Kiev street protests that were prompted by reports that the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election was rigged by the authorities”.

But this production is not so much drama as it is dance, not so much dance as it is ritualistic dumbshow, not so much dumbshow as it is a pictorial music event. And even then it is not much.

This is just handsome mumbo-jumbo, with a good deal of fake folk about it. The live accompaniment is by the Dakha Brakha Ethno-Chaos Band, who sit like Slav Druids (in furry stovepipe hats) on a raised dais at the back of the stage. Theirs is aural kitsch, in which Slav-repro sonorities and chants are churned into 4/4 crescendi and Stomp imitations.

The programme notes proceed to assure us that this staging “focuses on corruption and the seizing of power by foul means”, and that it “has a force that gets right to the heart of the tragedy”. But when you look at the stage, you find that it does no such thing. It is not really coherent enough to tell any story, let alone the Macbeth one.

Both these Macbeths are bizarrely passive figures, especially after becoming crowned monarchs. Several fate-figures manipulate the more human characters, and several women cup their breasts impressively when addressing men, hoist their skirts emphatically before sitting up, and do a limited amount of quasi- dervish spinning. Were any or all of these the weird sisters?

The production would be intolerable twaddle were it not strikingly designed and rigorously performed. Brightly coloured ethnic carpets line the entire stage floor and the three walls. The huge long mask that is worn by whoever is king is unforgettable: it turns the whole head into an engraved and elongated wooden block, about two feet long from crown to beard.

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